Man faces 48 years in killing of brother

A Rifle man who had been scheduled for trial next week in the 2008 slaying of his brother accepted a plea agreement Thursday.

Heath Johnston, 21, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a deal that calls for Johnston to be sentenced to the maximum penalty for the charge, 48 years in prison, according to records at the Garfield County Courthouse.

Johnston will be sentenced Oct. 6 by District Judge Gail Nichols.

The plea agreement was struck with the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office as jury selection for Johnston’s trial was slated to start Monday.

Johnston faced life without the possibility of parole had he been convicted of first-degree murder in the December 2008 death of his brother, Sam Johnston, 26, who was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun while sitting on a couch at his home in Rifle.

During pretrial hearings, Rifle police testified that Johnston said shortly after the shooting that his brother had been unhappy and had asked to be shot.

Johnston’s attorneys previously offered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.


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